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  • Writer's pictureDavid M. Rubin

A CLEAR-EYED LOOK AT THE UGLY 2023-24 LEGISLATIVE SESSION IN COLUMBIA

This is what happens when the State Legislature in Columbia is controlled by a super-majority of Republicans, some of whom seem to have been reincarnated from 1895 when the race codes were adopted and Reconstruction was nullified.

 

The so-called "accomplishments" of this ugly 2023-24 session are mostly "disasters avoided," for now, and "disasters realized."  The only true accomplishment was a very modest salary increase for teachers.  (See Steve Nida's blog post on the DCDP website for the details.)

 

Let's start with the disasters realized:

 

Women in South Carolina are now confronted with a "fetal heartbeat" abortion law that dictates the heartbeat is detectable at six weeks.  Women, therefore, must make the decision on abortion at six weeks or earlier, an impossibility in most cases.  Beyond six weeks, abortion is illegal in South Carolina.

 

Unlike the law in many states, South Carolina does not permit citizens to gather signatures to put an issue on the ballot for a vote.  South Carolinians are not afforded the opportunity to replicate what voters in Kansas and Ohio did; that is, enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution through the referendum process.  This is a sign of how profoundly undemocratic South Carolina is.

 

Under an open carry law, anyone 18 or older can purchase a hand gun and, without any training in safety or the use of the weapon, carry it openly anywhere in the state, except in some legislatively designated areas.  Most law enforcement organizations opposed this bill, but legislators caved in to Second Amendment absolutists.


The Legislature failed, yet again, to pass a hate crimes law.

 

The Legislature failed to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.  (Recreational use is probably a hundred years in the future, if ever.)


The Legislature failed to reform the method by which judges win a place on the bench.  The Legislature has, so far, retained complete control over the process.  A handful of lawyer-legislators, who regularly practice in front of the very judges they pick, control the selection process.  Even Governor McMaster has been unable to change this corrupt system.


A conference committee is meeting to try to work out a solution palatable to both chambers but, as of the middle of June, nothing has emerged.  In the meantime, new judges and a new Supreme Court justice were chosen under the old system.

 

Next, the disasters avoided, for now:

 

The Legislature failed to vote on Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver's proposal to centralize school library book purchasing. He goal is to make sure the books purchased do not treat issues such as race relations and sexual education in a manner she finds offensive.  If the Legislature fails to vote on her proposal by the end of the June special session, her proposal becomes law.  Or, the Legislature could convince her to withdraw it for now, or vote it down.

 

Proponents of "school choice" for parents tried to expand a small pilot program (starting just this year) into one covering all parents and their school-age children.  They failed. 

 

Had they succeeded, billions of dollars in tax money would have been taken from public schools and transferred by parents to private, charter, and religious schools, many of dubious quality.  This would seriously damage already-struggling public schools, which is one goal of the parental choice lobby. 

 

They will try again, in part because Superintendent Weaver (see above) is in favor of parental choice, even though she is charged statutorily with improving and protecting public schools.

 

A power grab by electric utilities was halted that would have gutted public oversight of their plans to build a new generating plant fueled by natural gas, and to construct a new pipeline to feed it. 

 

Efforts to meddle in the curriculum of public schools remain tied up in the Legislature.  Members of a conference committee have been meeting to determine what teachers can teach about race, sex, and gender.  They also want to make it easier for some activist parents (such as Moms4Liberty) to harass teachers, principals, and school boards about library books and lesson plans.


In addition to this sorry record, voters should not forget that the Legislature did little to fix the fundamental areas in which South Carolina ranks at or near the bottom in national comparisons:  the health of its population, the quality of K-12 education, the condition of its roads and bridges, and the wages paid to workers.  (There is no state minimum wage.)

 

The only way to fix this is for Democrats to end the super-majority grip that Republicans hold on the Legislature, which is where all power in South Carolina resides.

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